Pedro Martinez puts on a show for the crowd, but comes up short in Game 2

The New York Yankees win their 27th World Series, beating the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.
By Thomas Boswell
Friday, October 30, 2009


As he left the mound, knocked out by the Yankees yet again in a postseason game, Pedro Martínez's walk slowed to a near standstill as he approached the Phillies' dugout and took a long look into the Yankee Stadium stands where thousands were taunting him, enjoying his failure, many of them chanting, as they have so often at his expense, "Who's Your Daddy?"

The scoreboard said New York 2, Philadelphia 1 in the seventh inning with two of Martínez's runners still on base with no outs -- clear cause for Yankee glee. Then, Martínez, ever the showman, perhaps to excess, perhaps even when it is not wise, simply could not help himself. He gazed up into the crowd and he smiled.

"I saw a man in the front row with his daughter in one arm and a cup of beer in the other hand and saying all kinds of nasty stuff," said Martinez. "I just told him, 'Your daughter is right beside you.' God, how can you be so dumb?"

Of course, whether Pedro, baseball's preeminent diva of the last 20 years, really said those words or not, they are not what he truly meant to impart -- to New York and its Yankees. What Martínez intended to convey, by his every act on the field and every word in a long interview afterward, was: I'll be back in Game 6. Time will tell if it is dumb bravado or foreshadowing.

This World Series, now tied at a game apiece, as the Yanks went on to win 3-1, will now probably be long, convoluted and perhaps even wonderful. But few chapters in this autumn's baseball book are likely to be richer in drama than the probable rematch of Martínez and his Yankee Stadium demons -- not sitting in the stands, but perched by now almost surely in his own mind.

Few athletes have ever won a 1-on-50,181 grudge match. And Pedro's past history, even when he was younger and better, has been poor here. However, 38 or not, even in the last light of his baseball twilight, he's determined to try. And the Phils are stuck with his personal theater -- something they may not have bargained for when they took off the game's semi-scrap heap on July 15th for an 83-day pro-rated contract of less than $1 million.

If nothing else, Martínez -- an acquired taste for some, a career-long distaste for others -- knows how to steal any scene. He's the man who's fanned 300 men twice, won three Cy Young Awards, had ERAs like 1.74 and 1.90 and made stat nuts debate whether, at his best from '97 to '03, he was the most dominant pitcher in history, relative to his hard-hitting era. And he knows it. He makes "diva" look like too mild a term.

This was a night when A.J. Burnett, 32, finally pitched the mega-pressure game that his amazing raw stuff has always predicted. He fanned nine in seven innings of winning one-run ball and rang up three of slugger Ryan Howard's four strikeouts here in Game 2. Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui hit solo homers off Martínez, the key blows in what Teixeira called "a must game for us. We couldn't go down two games to those guys going to Philadelphia." And Mariano Rivera needed 40 pitches for two tough nerve-wracking final innings of relief.

But Martínez can't leave the New York cauldron alone. The more his Phillie teammates -- not a spotlight hog in the bunch -- see his act in this World Series, the more tension it may create. However, after his seven shutout innings against Los Angeles in the NLCS and his quality start against the Yanks, he's the Phils' best choice if there's a Game 6. Besides, Pedro won't be mortally ill then.

Oh, you didn't think the Yanks beat the real Martínez, did you? "I'm not making an excuse," said Martínez. But he was sick and weak, short of sleep and malnourished, coughing and fighting a sore chest. Hey, probably true. His fastball was down several miles per hour from his two-hit showing in L.A.

That's Martínez's version anyway. The Yanks just barely beat him, even though he was almost at death's door. Okay, maybe at Bad Cold's Door. But he still struck out eight Yanks. He still battled Burnett, at his crackling-curve best, for a 1-1 tie into the sixth inning. Why you just wait until he comes back here next week, all full of Nyquil and the steaks, beans and rice he loves. He'll make 'em forget the Grady Little Game in '03 here when he blew a pennant to the Yanks. He'll make 'em regret stigmatizing him for knocking down senior citizen coach Don Zimmer in the ALCS. He'll stuff those "Who's Your Daddy?" chants back down there throats. The last word -- that's all he wants.

So, now the fun really starts. See how, with each game, the main protagonists and themes are emerging. Even Burnett said that, after watching Cliff Lee's interview after Game One, he felt motivated to pitch fearlessly. "Cliffy was like a man against boys," said Burnett, who was almost as overpowering.

Now, the Yanks have one of their big hitting guns untracked in Teixeira. "I hit a high change-up," said the Yankee first baseman of his second-pitch blast into the right field bullpen. "If you got down in the count, [Martínez] was going to put you away with his off-speed stuff. So I went up there trying to be aggressive."

Still, no one is surprised that the most prominent pitchers in this series -- Lee, CC Sabathia and Burnett -- have been impressive. The wild card has been Martínez. If this is really his "sick game," if he's ready to be better next time, that matters. Or is he just another former star with a grudge stuck in his craw that he just can't shake. If so, "Who's Your Daddy" will be right here waiting for him again if the series returns here next week.

A great World Series develops its dominant themes and protagonists as it unfolds. Now, Burnett has arrived. "He was just tremendous," conceded Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. Will he be able to pitch on three days' rest, as seems possible since the Yanks still want to see if they can start Sabathia three times. "I can do it," said Burnett. "I'm not a big fan of it."

The portrait gallery of this Series has plenty of room to grow. On this night, we've added Martínez's picture on the wall. Put a large "L" beside his name. Soon enough, we'll find out if his final departing smile was foreshadowing or fraud.

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